Altered activity of the human dopamine transporter gene (hDAT) is associated with several common and severe brain disorders, including cocaine abuse. However, there is little a priori information on whether such alterations are due to nature (genetic variation) or nurture (human behaviors such as cocaine abuse). This study investigated the correlation between seven markers throughout hDAT and its mRNA levels in postmortem ventral midbrain tissues from 18 cocaine abusers and 18 strictly matched drug‐free controls in the African‐American population. Here, we show that one major haplotype with the same frequency in cocaine abusers versus drug‐free controls displays a 37.1% reduction of expression levels in cocaine abusers compared with matched controls (P = 0.0057). The most studied genetic marker, variable number tandem repeats (VNTR) located in Exon 15 (3′VNTR), is not correlated with hDAT mRNA levels. A 5′ upstream VNTR (rs70957367) has repeat numbers that are positively correlated with expression levels in controls (r2 = 0.9536, P = 0.0235), but this positive correlation disappears in cocaine abusers. The findings suggest that varying hDAT activity is attributable to both genetics and cocaine abuse.
Yanhong Zhou, S. Michelhaugh, C. J. Schmidt